The first five volumes of the Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham contain over 1,300 letters written both to and from Bentham over a 50-year period, beginning in 1752 (aged three) with his earliest surviving letter to his grandmother, and ending in 1797 with correspondence concerning his attempts to set up a national scheme for the provision of poor relief. Against the background of the debates on the American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789, to which he made significant contributions, Bentham worked first on producing a complete penal code, which involved him in detailed explorations of fundamental legal ideas, and then on his panopticon prison scheme. Despite developing a host of original and ground-breaking ideas, contained in a mass of manuscripts, he published little during these years, and remained, at the close of this period, a relatively obscure individual. Nevertheless, these volumes reveal how the foundations were laid for the remarkable rise of Benthamite utilitarianism in the early nineteenth century. In 1789 Bentham published An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, which remains his most famous work, but which had little impact at the time, followed in 1791 by The Panopticon: or, The Inspection-House, in which he proposed the building of a circular penitentiary house. Bentham’s correspondence unfolds against the backdrop of the increasingly violent French Revolution, and shows his initial sympathy for France turning into hostility. On a personal level, in 1791 his brother Samuel returned from Russia, and in 1792 he inherited his father’s house in Queen’s Square Place, Westminster together with a significant property portfolio.
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